Garver brings employees from 12 states to Little Rock, announces leadership change

by Steve Brawner (BRAWNERSTEVE@MAC.COM) 1,075 views 

Garver President and CEO Brock Hoskins (left) and Chairman Emeritus Dan Williams.

Garver brought most of its 700 full-time employees to Little Rock last week to celebrate its centennial year, and it used the occasion to announce it is being led by a new CEO.

Brock Hoskins, who was president, is now president and CEO, while former CEO Dan Williams is now chairman emeritus.

The engineering firm’s changeover became effective Thursday, Oct. 17. It was announced that evening at the Garver Summit’s closing event, the State of the Firm and Centennial Celebration at the First Security Amphitheater.

The company previously had announced the move would occur as part of its succession plan. Williams is retiring in December.

Garver began hosting the annual summits in 2011 but stopped bringing everyone to Little Rock in 2014 as the firm grew. This year it paid for 648 full-time employees to attend. Employees could participate in professional development sessions or in about 35 excursions.

The firm is enjoying a period of rapid growth and acquisition, having hired 193 full-time employees this year through September while expanding to 31 offices in 12 states.

“A lot of offices had to lock their doors because everybody was coming here,” said Guy Choate, communications team manager.

The company set two goals in 2015 to achieve by 2019, Williams announced at the State of the Firm event. One was reaching $100 million in revenues. It achieved that goal in 2017 and is on pace this year to reach $150 million.

The other was to be ranked in the top 125 among Engineering News-Record magazine’s top design firms based on revenues. In 2015, Garver was 192. Describing it as an ambitious goal, Williams said the firm’s ranking in April 2019 was 138. While it fell short, it did climb 54 spots in four years. And he pointed out that current rankings are based on previous year’s revenues, so the firm might reach its goal next year.

Garver also hoped to be in the top 25 aviation firms and was ranked number 22 in 2017 and number 19 in 2019. It was number 24 in a regional environmental ranking that includes Arkansas along with Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

To celebrate the centennial, the firm created the Chain Reaction Challenge. One hundred schools in the Garver footprint, including 43 in Arkansas, were given $300 and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) kits with dominoes and other items. They were tasked with creating “Rube Goldberg” contraptions that ingenuously accomplish simple tasks in complicated ways, and video recording the results. Garver representatives delivered the kits.

Nine winning schools received $1,000. The three Arkansas winners were Henderson Middle School in Little Rock, Butterfield Trail Middle School in Van Buren, and Russellville Middle School.

At the State of the Firm event at the Riverfront Amphitheater, Garver revealed that the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired was given a Special Judges Award of $5,000 for its video, “The Gong Show Chain Reaction.” That school’s contraption incorporated sound and texture and ended with the banging of a gong. The $5,000 award will be used to create a designated maker space for students to work on STEM projects. Garver also enlisted the school to help create STEM kits for other schools for the visually impaired.

The company was founded by Neal Garver in 1919. Garver, a bridge professor at the University of Illinois, had come to Little Rock after volunteering for war work during World War I. He was brought to the city to oversee construction of a picric acid plant used in munitions. The war ended as the plant was coming online, but Garver decided to stay in Arkansas because of the lack of engineers here, and he served as the Highway Commission’s first bridge engineer. He put his stamp on more than 2,000 bridges, many of which still stand, Choate said. His son, Mark Garver, became Little Rock’s first traffic engineer and joined the firm in 1954.

Participants learned about the firm’s history during one seminar at the Garver Summit. Former president Bill Driggers appeared on stage with Williams.

Driggers said when he joined the firm in February 1959, it was composed of about 10 individuals occupying a small suite of offices. Times were good for new engineering college graduates. He had five or six job offers, and Garver’s was the lowest salary, but he accepted it because of its potential.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for a young engineer to get into a progressive firm and learn the practice of engineering,” he said.

Driggers said Neal Garver was still active in the company and insisting on taking personal responsibility for the firm’s work.

“Every set of plans we turned out for the longest time that I was with Garver had Neal Garver’s stamp on it,” he said. “A lot of them he probably didn’t know a whole lot about the project, but he insisted as head man he’d stamp everything. And he did. My stamp didn’t get used for a long time.”

In recorded remarks, former president Sanford Wilbourn said, “Garver Sr. was an absolute personification of integrity. He was ethically and morally straight as a dye, and he expected other people to do likewise, pretty much. Mark Garver was more relaxed and not quite so conservative as his father was, but they were both very careful engineers, and both of course had almost a lifetime of experience before I came with them. They were completely fair.”

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